Discussion of W.I. Thomas, "The Significance of the Orient for the Occident"


It is hardly fair to ask me to express my undigested opinions after you have listened to so careful and admirable a paper on this subject. You have had pointed out to you the natural causes of the antipathy between the yellow and white races. Of course these are causes that cannot be removed. You know that we white people are called in China the "foreign devils." That term is better translated the "foreign ghosts," because the origin of the term is the uncanny appearance that we present to the Chinese with our light hair and our blue eyes. Occasionally in China you see an albino, and you may be certain that every albino in China has the nickname of "the foreigner."

This of course we cannot get over -- the natural antipathy of the people of one race and appearance for those of another. But the great cause of antipathy between the white and yellow races is something that can be removed, and that is mutual ignorance. Now, though I agree with almost everything that Professor Thomas has said to us, I thought that in one section of his paper he did an injustice to the Chinese, when he spoke of their wonderful homogeneity. To an observer, of course, who has not penetrated into the inner life of the Chinese, they seem to be very much alike. But if you get into the actual Chinese life, you realize that there is just as much individuality in the Chinese race as there is in ours. The fact is that the Chinese development of language has been such as to form an almost insurmountable intellectual barrier between us and them. If you are able to overcome that barrier and enter into the intellectual life of China you find that they are a people who have their poetry, their philosophy, their history, that their scholars are critical in their examination of historical records, that they delight in the same sort of literary criticism and discussion that we do; but it is on a plane that we cannot easily attain to. They have developed a literature which is so totally different from anything that we are familiar with, that we cannot appreciate it without very thorough preparation.

Now ignorance on both sides is the principal cause of hostility. When we first appeared on the shores of China the Chinese regarded us as a race of savages who had no learning and no intellectual laws, but that we represented brute force. They looked upon us as mechanically ingenious savages, and it

(745) was a great surprise to them to find that we could be influenced by considerations of reason. Even to this day, when a European or an American has mastered the language, he finds that the people of the interior express surprise when they find that they can discuss things with him and argue with him and that he can appreciate them. They have thought that we were actuated only by principles of brute force, that we have a will which we wish to enforce upon them, and that we do it by force; but when they find that we can talk about the reasonableness of a thing, they are surprised.

We have never given them credit for their intellectuality, and they have never given us credit for our intellectuality; and my experience in China has been that just as soon as people come on to common ground, either by our acquiring their knowledge or by their acquiring ours, nine-tenths of the antipathy at once disappears. At the present time, as you know, the Chinese race has elected to adopt our modern system of study, in addition, of course, to the study of their own classical literature. All their mentality, up to the present thee, has gone into the study of ethics and of their own classical literature. Now that they have begun to study and appreciate the value of science, they are feeling a new sympathy with us.

What we want to guard against is mutual contempt. After all that is much more important in separating the peoples than any differences in the color of their skin. People can come together as friends only upon the basis of mutual respect. I have lived a quarter of a century in China, and I respect the Chinese. I respect their intellectual ability and their attainments in their literature. I recognize in them a thinking mind, and the Chinese are beginning to recognize the same in us.

I feel that we are at the beginning of the most important epoch in human history. The Chinese, representing a quarter of the population of the world, have held aloof from us, and they have now decided to enter into the modern family of nations.

The question is, how are we going to receive them? Professor Thomas has already told us that all the influences of Chinese education and ethical culture tend toward peace and away from war. Even the Chinese written character "wu," military, indicates their estimate of military affairs, for an analysis of the written character shows its meaning to be "to stop the clashing of spears." But, as Professor Thomas has said. they are being forced into a military attitude. Now, we have just reached a point where we are beginning to realize that the principles of our own religion call for peace, that arbitration is better than fighting; and I say we are now at the most important period of human history, because if we admit the Mongolian race on this basis, all the teachings, all the influences of their history would tend to cause them to unite with us cordially upon this new platform of arbitration; but if we are backward in this, the consequences to ourselves are going to be disastrous. We all believe that the real civilization of the world

(746) is linked up with this great question, and if we are able to move forward rapidly enough in our measures for the abolition of war the Chinese will join with us as brothers in the new era of peace


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